A sign is a representation of an object that implies a connection between itself and its object. A natural sign bears a causal relation to its object—for instance, thunder is a sign of storm. A conventional sign signifies by agreement, as a full stop signifies the end of a sentence. (This is in contrast to a symbol which stands for another thing, as a flag may be a symbol of a nation).
The way a sign signifies is called semiosis which is a topic of semiotics and philosophy of language.
How a sign is perceived depends upon what is intended or expressed in the semiotic relationship of:
- Significance (i.e. meaning)
Thus, for example, people may speak of the significance of events, the signification of characters, the meaning of sentences, or the import of a communication. Different ways of relating signs to their objects are called modes of signification.
Uses of conventional signs are varied. Usually the goal is to elicit a response or simply inform. That can be achieved by marking something, displaying a message (i.e. a notice), drawing attention or presenting evidence of an underlying cause (for instance, medical symptoms signify a disease), performing a bodily gesture, etc.
Famous quotes containing the word sign:
“The first sign of corruption in a society that is still alive is that the end justifies the means.”
—Georges Bernanos (18881948)
“The man of genius, like a dog with a bone, or the slave who has swallowed a diamond, or a patient with the gravel, sits afar and retired, off the road, hangs out no sign of refreshment for man and beast, but says, by all possible hints and signs, I wish to be alone,good-by,fare-well. But the Landlord can afford to live without privacy.”
—Henry David Thoreau (18171862)
“I can only sign over everything,
the house, the dog, the ladders, the jewels,
the soul, the family tree, the mailbox.
Then I can sleep.
—Anne Sexton (19281974)